SINGAPORE -- As many countries tighten restrictions on exports of vital products in response to the coronavirus pandemic, members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade pact are going against the tide of protectionism with agreements to facilitate free trade.
A plane carrying 20 tons of meat from New Zealand, including beef and lamb, landed at Singapore's Changi Airport on April 22, marking the first step in a trade initiative launched by the countries the previous week.
The two TPP members agreed to remove tariffs and other trade barriers on goods deemed essential to combating the pandemic, mainly medical supplies such as gloves, disinfectant and medication along with dairy products, meat and other foods. For Singapore, which produces only about 10% of its own food, the measure helps to diversify its supply and reduce the risk of shortages.
With export restrictions widening amid the pandemic and the U.S. and China, the world's two largest economies, focused on their ongoing rivalry, the 11 nations in the TPP are trying to minimize disruption to the free flow of goods by joining hands with other nations both within and outside the bloc.
Singapore Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Japanese counterpart Hiroshi Kajiyama agreed Friday to work together to maintain and promote trade in agricultural and medical products. With coronavirus cases rising in both countries, Singapore and Tokyo look to ensure a smooth flow of crucial supplies.
The two governments will also encourage collaboration among startups as the pandemic heightens the importance of digital trade.
Also on Friday, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, along with non-TPP member South Korea, agreed to set common guidelines for essential cross-border travel to minimize trouble with customs procedures. These would clarify points such as giving priority to travelers from countries where the outbreak is subsiding, for example.
Several countries, including Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Brunei as well as TPP outsider Myanmar, issued a joint statement last month pledging to cooperate to maintain open trade lines, including air and sea freight.
TPP members see establishing multiple international frameworks for cooperation as a counterweight to growing protectionism elsewhere.
Russia, the world's largest exporter of wheat, has halted exports of wheat, barley and other grains for the quarter after hitting a quota established to protect domestic supply. In Southeast Asia, Cambodia has halted overseas shipments of rice, and Thailand has banned exports of eggs. Restrictions on foreign acquisitions of medical companies have cropped up as well.
A joint editorial by the trade ministers of Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and the U.K. stressing the importance of global trade amid the coronavirus crisis was published in newspapers in those countries on Tuesday. The ministers see the TPP, "which the UK is seeking to join, as a key part of promoting a liberal free trading agenda across the world," the ministers said.